It has been a long six years since Rooney released their last album, “Eureka,” in 2010. That’s not to say Robert Schwartzman, the creative force behind the band, was resting on his laurels. Schwartzman’s DIY sensibility and unquenchable thirst for creative output led him to scoring the music for the 2013 Gia Coppola movie “Palo Alto,” collaborating with other artists like Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato, and to write and direct his first feature film “Dreamland.” The Los Angeles based alt-rock outfit came firing back in the summer of 2016 with the new album “Washed Away,” which was released through Beachwood Park Music. “Washed Away” is a labor of love for Schwartzman, who holed up in his home studio to write, produce and perform all of the songs.
“Washed Away” combines the elements of Rooney’s past releases yet also explores new sonic territory. Rather than succumb to the pressures of the music world’s near-constant release cycles, Schwartzman wanted to create something tangible and long lasting. A refreshing antidote to the disposable pop music machine, “Washed Away” is loaded with guitar-driven melodies and anthemic choruses throughout in true Rooney fashion. The album is an exciting new chapter for the band and Schwartzman as a constantly evolving artist. The band recently kicked off The Groundswell Tour for a cross-country trek in support of the amazing new record. Joining the band on the 16-date tour are special guests Royal Teeth and Swimming with Bears.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Robert Schwartzman to discuss his creative evolution, the making of “Washed Away” and much more!
We’ve grown to know you musically throughout the years. What went into finding your creative voice as an artist early on?
For me, it started writing songs when I was a junior in high school. I love music and I was around my brother who was drumming in Phantom Planet. I was around all those guys and it was cool to be around a lot of musicians because when you’re around musicians, you’re around a lot of songwriters and listening to a lot of cool music because your brother is sharing music with you. It all happened at that time in life where we all get excited about stuff. I wasn’t really thinking too much about trying to emulate somebody. I think you write from an honest, innocent place of, “I like this, so I want to make something … ” and then something comes out of you. I think what happens as you grow up and become sort of a quote unquote professional in the industry, part of the pros and cons is that you sort of learned more about the good, bad and ugly of the music industry and what it means to be an artist or songwriter. I think everything plays a role from the fans to the reviews to the sales numbers to the radio feedback, along with your own inner voice wanting to push yourself or run away from it after all these things you have been exposed to. For me, I just try to remain excited or come from a place of excitement about what I’m working on. I try to keep listening to music as well. It’s tough because I really have not been the kind of songwriter that tries to copy something or who listens to something and tries to re-create it. To be honest, I think a lot of people actually do and a lot of people have a great way of finding a way to mimic something. I try to write or follow ideas musically down some kind of path and find they kind of pull you along. The visual that pops to mind while I’m talking to you relates to fishing. It’s like when you go fishing and there’s some debate in the water. If you are a fish, you see something out there you like and it pulls you somewhere. Creatively, there is a lot of debate out there I can pull you in a certain direction. Hopefully it takes you somewhere good or somewhere you want to be as an artist.
It has been six years in between the last Rooney album and your latest release. You worked for many years to get it the way you wanted it. What made now the right time for the album?
There are a few things. One was that I was wanting to take some time to work on other projects. I think that is what really inspired the hiatus. I was still actively writing through the break. I was making some other side projects and writing for films which is something that I had never done. The juices were flowing and put me outside of the same old thing I have been doing for a long time, which was Rooney for so many years. I think what led me back into it was that I started working on some new music and I let the music dictate what the project is. I don’t sit down and say, “OK, now I’m going to write a Rooney record. Rooney sounds like this, so I am going to write like this.” I let the personality of what the music is becoming lead me back to a project. I’ve always loved playing under the Rooney name and have always loved the catalog of music that has been created thus far. To me, it would be sad not to be able to embrace that on some level. There is a Rooney sound that I can identify with and maybe other listeners can as well. With “Washed Away,” when I was recording it, I found it starting to shine as a Rooney record. So, I followed that thread and took that bait, back to that analogy. It was that feeling of, “Wow, that sounds like it could be a new Rooney record!” Then I just continue down the path and flesh out the album. It takes time to make a record. You can become critical of the process. You can hate it, love it and want to start all over again. I definitely get really micro-managey about making records. I try to go really deep in there, fine-tune and try to challenge things as I work. So, I have a hard time letting go of stuff. It’s really scary for a lot of people to say, “OK. Now this is finished.” I don’t really have a producer telling me, “Hey, this is it. You’re good!” With that said, I have to be that guy or that editor, if you will. It’s like if you were going to release a novel or something that you devoted a few years to, you would want someone to proofread it or give you feedback. At the end of the day, if it’s your baby, you have to be the one to make those decisions and that’s sort of what it is for me. I have my process of sort of leaning on the people around me to get feedback but, at some point, I have to make those hard decisions. Over the years, I have gotten used to it. I have made records for many years now, so I feel like I’ve gotten a little closer to being able to make those decisions myself.
What are the biggest lessons you took away from the making of “Washed Away?” I’m sure with being so deeply involved you learned a few!
Absolutely! I think that one of the lessons is just to hold on to some kind of confidence that I feel can help me stay positive and optimistic for the next record. My whole idea is that I want to keep making records and I want to be consistent with this project. I think one of the biggest things that I have not been able to achieve with Rooney since I started is consistency. I think consistency is the magic word for Rooney. We’ve had a lot of forces working against the project for so many years. I think more time went into fighting the good fight sometimes then went into just being able to make records. I think that is a shame because as an artist you just want to focus on being creative. It’s unfortunate but the flip side of the coin is that the music industry today is a more turbulent place. It’s the part of the process that isn’t as sexy for fans to think about but it’s real and it affects the music. I think what I really learned is that I can make a record. I’m more confident in my producing abilities and making a really good sounding record. I spent a lot of time on the sonics. When mixing a record, I care so much about the quality of the record, so it comes down to believing more in myself and being able to deliver those things. I’ve also learned to be more open-minded with how I collaborate. For so many years I put up my hands and kept things at arm’s length. I pushed things away because I was afraid to embrace them. I’m trying to be more open to the idea of what it means to collaborate with someone, how you might inspire someone around you and how you feel inspired by working with them. A great corroboration is when 1 + 1 = 3 and can you get something more unusual and exciting than you would if you were just sitting at home with a guitar. Even incorporating Soko as a duet on the Rooney record was something entirely new to Rooney. It sounds like a simple thing to do a duet but it’s not. It takes the right kind of song, the right lyrical content and the right partner to sing it with you. I think those things just kind of naturally showed themselves on this record. I’m happy that Rooney can take a step forward in a new light.
Where are you headed musically? Is there musical ground you’re anxious to tackle in the short-term?
Yeah and I will take you down memory lane for a second. I recently went to see ZZ Top play. In the crowd there were people of all generations who either grew up with ZZ Top or learned about ZZ Top later and became a fan. When you hear the show, the whole show sounds like ZZ Top. Every song is a ZZ Top song! Right? There is a real identity. I think that’s interesting because I grew up loving bands that changed their sound. The Beatles, for example, always sound like the Beatles but they were able to evolve and preserve that sound, which is easier said than done. I think that young artists would see these bands evolve. If you’re a fan of old music, you would watch bands evolve. It was a much different time because the technology was rapidly changing and music and people went from very limited tracks to having multiple tracks. The reason the sound changed so rapidly was that the audio recording process was rapidly evolving. Young artists today, and I was one of them, feel they must evolve quickly like the Beatles or Pink Floyd. They feel like you must take those big steps every album. It paints this picture that preserving what you do is not a good thing and that you need to grow or if I make a record that sounds like my old record then I have failed. When I watched ZZ Top play, I was reminded that there is a beauty to being who you are, doing it the best you can with your voice and allowing that to evolve. If that sounds like a Rooney record, then good! If it sounds like Rooney, to me, that is a positive thing that there is such a thing as a Rooney sound. On one hand, I love the idea of building off the story that has already been told and I think “Washed Away” is a good example of a record that sort of bridges the gap between sounding more mature or, sonically, a little more rocking or a little more this or that but it also sounds like Rooney. That is the feedback I have gotten from a lot of people who have been fans over the years about this record. At the same time, I also have a lot of music I want to go make that has synthesizers or more programmed parts, which I love. I love the use of programmed things. What’s going through my head is, “How do I embrace those things that I love in other music and preserve the things I love about this Rooney project too?” That is the kind of thing I think a lot of artists try to do — take a step forward musically but also continue to try and be who they are. I think that’s the magic of all of this and the test for everybody.
What’s the best way fans like myself can support Rooney and other artists on the front lines like yourself in today’s turbulent music industry climate?
I love this question because it makes me want to talk heavily about the state of the music industry or what my hopes or dreams for it might be. I would tell your readers that supporting an artist is a much appreciated thing for an artist. I think that maybe there are artists out there who take it for granted but I can speak personally and can tell you I look at every album sold, every ticket sold, every T-shirt sold and I write every check that goes out to go on the road or to make a record. It’s a business, right? So you look at every dollar in and every dollar out. You’re just trying to make sure that you can stay afloat. Some fans don’t think that when they buy a record or come to a show that it really does anything. They might take it for granted and say, “Oh, I’ll catch them next time.” To me, I feel like you need to seize the day. I just want fans to know that a lot goes into every little piece of this puzzle and it all means something when fans participate. It’s important that if you like a band that you are somehow involved in its story because every person counts. It’s like they say for voting and it literally is that. Literally every person counts. I know people that are like, “Eh, it’s going to go that way anyway …,” but that’s not really the right attitude because we all have a right to share our voice. I think artists and fans have that relationship as well.’
That’s an interesting way of looking at it and makes a lot of sense. Thanks for your time today, Robert. We look forward to spreading the word on everything you have coming our way and we’ll see you out there on the road for sure!
Thanks, Jason! I really appreciate your time. Take care.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.